I don’t know about you but I loved the neighborhood where I grew up. It was a pretty typical Chicago working class neighborhood. The city planners in Chicago designed a grid system that consisted of residential streets filled with apartment buildings and homes, bisected every four blocks by a major street that served as the neighborhood’s commercial district and public transportation artery. At most it was a three or four block walk to the store, be it the pharmacy, butcher, baker, barber, beauty salon,dry cleaner, toy store, clothing store, shoe store, dentist, furniture store, bank, grocery store, neighborhood department store, or deli. They were all within walking distance. All that walking kept us a little thinner than we are today.
Most of the businesses in those days were family owned and operated. The majority of the buildings on those commercial streets were two story structures with businesses housed on the ground floor and apartments above. Many of the business owners lived right above their stores. They had a short commute to work and always had their eye on their businesses and the neighborhood goings on. Everybody knew each other. There was a strong sense of community and an ingrained sense of accountability and responsibility to each other.
Before the word “diversity” was even a thing we had a great deal of it in my neighborhood. There was a mix of religions, a couple different races, and the kids with “handicaps” of one type or another just played with the other kids, usually in the alleys, to the best of their abilities. We really never really thought about our differences, we were just the kids in the neighborhood and the most prominent form of discrimination occurred when we chose up sides for sports. Can’t kick? Can’t block? Can’t “place hit” over the second baseman’s head? You got chosen last. Didn’t matter your race, religion, economic status, or political leanings.
It was a time when sprawling regional malls filled with shops owned by giant corporations from far flung parts of the country were still a thing of the future. Ironically, today those malls are rapidly becoming a relic of the past. But that’s a different subject.
So what made me think about all of this? It’s the inauguration of a new president, the changing of the guard in DC and around the nation. It occurred to me that the president is similar to the owners of the small businesses in my old neighborhood. He lives upstairs, above his business, has a short commute to work, and is responsible for knowing his customers and keeping the neighborhood safe, clean, and respectable. He can’t operate in a vacuum but needs to work in cooperation with the neighborhood’s other business owners (members of Congress and heads of state). He needs to respect and even love his customers, treat all of them with dignity and fairness and if he doesn’t he’ll find himself out of business, or out of office, before he knows what happened.
It is my hope that we experience a peaceful transition of power from the old to the new. I hope too that the new guy who lives above the store in DC accepts the mantle of power and responsibility with a deep sense of humility and accountability to the people in the neighborhood. I’m deeply concerned about the fact that Washington, DC has become the nation’s seat of wealth and “bought and paid for” power and is no longer the epicenter of service to the people. In a perfect world the president’s duty is to make all things possible for all of the people in the nation. Then, government needs to get out of the way and let true democracy and a fairly regulated market economy do the rest.
From my own perspective I believe that the initiative taken by our former president to expand health insurance coverage to the uninsured population was well intended but poorly executed. We’ve got a new option to do it right. The worst thing that we can do is go back to pre-2014 health care. The best that we can do is rein in health care and prescription costs so that our costs are aligned with the rest of the industrialized world. The problem isn’t insurance, the real problem is our system’s open wallet to health care providers and pharmaceutical manufacturers. If we can fix that then the insurance problems will take care of themselves. I hope the guy on the second floor is listening.
Thanks for reading.
Alan Leafman, President